Two hours into a court hearing Friday, Tanishia Covington was ready to receive her sentence for her role in the infamous Facebook Live hate crime-hazing and beating of a white, 18-year-old Crystal Lake man.
Following her guilty plea, and requisite recitation of the proof against her, her statement admitting to details of the 2017 incident, and her attorneys’ outline of her troubled life before her arrest and sterling conduct in jail, the time had come for her to address the court.
“I just want to say that I’m sorry to everyone for my participation, (and) being childish and irresponsible and…” Tanishia Covington began.
Then, the judge started talking.
“We have one of the victims and his family here, ‘everyone’ is nebulous, and is too broad, if you have a more particularlized apology other than to the whole of the universe,” Cook County Judge William Hooks said, instructing Covington to turn and face a slim, dark-haired man seated between his sister and father in the near-empty courtroom gallery.
“I know what trauma feels like and I really am sorry… if I added any problems for you,” Covington, 25, said, choking up as the young man rose from his seat and walked to the courtroom doorway.
“You should not have experienced that and I hope that it doesn’t affect your life.”
“It’s okay. It’s fine,” the man said softly, standing only a few feet from the weeping defendant.
Hooks, after a lengthy speech that touched on his family’s history in the Civil Rights movement and the impacts of social media on crime and society, then handed down a three-year prison sentence for Covington.
The judge denied a request to give her full credit for the slate of programs she had completed during nearly 16 months she had spent in jail since her arrest. Had he given her full credit, she would have been released in days.
In November, Covington’s younger sister, Brittany, pleaded guilty to her role in the crime and was sentenced to four years probation.
The two remaining defendants – Jordan Hill and Tesfaye Cooper – have turned down plea deals that would have seen them serve several years in prison, and are awaiting trial.
Both sisters have agreed to testify against Cooper and Hill.
Prosecutors have said Hill and the victim were classmates at a west suburban alternative school. The pair met in northwest suburban Streamwood on New Year’s Eve, drove a stolen truck to Chicago, and there met Cooper and went to Covingtons’ East Garfield Park apartment. After drinking and smoking marijuana, police said a “play fight” between Hill and the victim escalated.
In a 30-minute video recorded on the teen’s cellphone by Brittany Covington, the victim is shown, apparently tied to a radiator, as Cooper and Hill taunt him, cut his clothing and hair with a knife, and shout insults, including “f— Donald Trump,” and demand that he say “I love black people.” In other footage, the teen was made to lick the floor and drink from a toilet bowl.
The races of the alleged tormentors and their victim, and mention of Trump, who had won the presidency two months earlier after a campaign that had inflamed the nation’s racial divide, propelled the video into viral infamy. Then-President Barack Obama decried the contents of the video as “despicable.”
Tanishia Covington had suffered a long list of personal tragedies, including the murder of her boyfriend just weeks before her arrest in the case, said her attorney, Assistant Public Defender Connie Jordan.
She was born to a heroin-addicted mother who was in and out of prison, and a drug-dealing father who was deported to Nigeria when she was a child.
Tanishia Covington’s first child, born while she was a ward of the state at age 16, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and her youngest child has been hospitalized since birth, due to a congenital illness.